Our list of things to know when visiting Spain will help, whether planning a quick city break or two-week beach holiday. From the must-know essentials to tips and snippets of advice, it is important to learn about a country before arriving.
Doing so will not only help you avoid the tourist faux pas but also enhance your time, no matter where you go. However, get stereotypes out of your head. Spain is about a lot more than paella, sangria, and afternoon siesta.
The overwhelming diversity of culture, languages, history, and local traditions stretches across 17 unique regions. It is an interesting country so don’t think in absolutes and be prepared to drop the stereotypical viewpoints to truly understand Spain and its people.
Spain uses the euro. Avoid changing money at airports because they offer the worst exchange rate. Instead, use designated banks or exchange shops but watch for false advertising like 0% commission because often, the vendor makes their money from offering a lower rate. Use ATMs, but notify your bank before going. Most shops, bars and restaurants also accept debit and credit cards.
In many touristic places, locals speak English. However, while Castilian Spanish is the official language, the country has 5 different languages spoken in different regions. So, if you plan to get off the beaten track, use a translator app. Otherwise, brush up on a few helpful sayings like “where is___” by using a language learning app.
Contrary to belief, Spain is a year-round destination and the weather varies from one coast to the other. It just depends on your preferences of what you like to do, that determines the best time to visit. For beach holidays, go between May to October, but be aware that temperatures in August are sweltering, on the south coast. For cool weather that is great for getting out and exploring, stick to Spring and Autumn.
Most local businesses close between 2 pm and 4 pm, however thanks to today’s modern lifestyles, most Spaniards those in big cities will not take a siesta, i.e. the traditional afternoon nap. Instead some use the opportunity for a long lunch, while others may rest or catch up with friends.
Spain does everything later than other cultures because of the afternoon siesta; hence they won’t go out for meals until 9 p.m. or later. In some places like the partying capital of Ibiza, the nightlife scene goes on until morning. Tipping isn’t big business, when compared to places like the USA. If you want to leave a tip, aim for 10% of the bill, but keep an eye out for places that have already added a service charge.
Jamon is everywhere in Spain and a staple part of their diet. This tradition of hung cured ham stretches back centuries hence why most homes always have it in the fridge. Another popular dish eaten at any time is Tortilla. Think of it as the Spanish omelette but made with potatoes. Both food items should be on your culinary bucket list.
Pintxos is traditional to the northern Basque region, while places like the Andalusia region often serve Tapas free with drinks. Both are similar and the only noticeable difference is portion sizes. Also, in your rush to be like a local, stop before ordering Sangria because they rarely drink it. Instead, this wine-loving country prefers a decent selection of white, red, and rose options.
Everyone has heard of paella but most people don’t pronounce it properly. They say pah-eh-la but the correct way to say it is pah-eh-ya. To do as the locals do eat it for lunch because that gives time for the heaviness of the dish to wear off. Order the fish or meat versions but remember the most authentic and traditional paella comes from Valencia.
No, Spain hosts millions of tourists every year, who enjoy time in the sun, gorgeous beaches, delicious food and one of the biggest collections of UNESCO World Heritage sites. However, don’t make yourself a victim of opportunity crime. Take the same safety precautions that you would do in your home country. Also know that in large cities like Madrid, and Barcelona, pickpockets target tourists so keep cash and cards secure and in inside pockets.
Spain’s 17 regions are diverse and visiting each, gains a greater insight into the country. The North is the colder and wetter region. We love the southern Andalusia region which includes well-known destinations like the Costa Del Sol, and a high concentration of golf courses. Heading east, we also like Valencia, home to the Costa Blanca and also beautiful Alicante.
Given Spain has over 5000 kilometres of coastline, there are thousands of beaches to choose from. Most people head to the Andalusia and Valencia areas for sun, sea and sand but for a change, La Concha in northeast Spain belongs to San Sebastian area and is one of the best in Europe. Popular islands to visit include Ibiza and Mallorca in the Balearic and Gran Canaria in the Canaries.
Without a doubt, Madrid, and Barcelona with their huge range of shopping, nightlife, food, and historical attractions are the most popular. Instagram users also rate the already mentioned San Sebastian in the Basque region. It also has some of the world’s most renowned restaurants which food lovers will adore.
Of Further Interest
To find out more things to know when visiting Spain, see our area guide talking about highlighted regions, why they are popular, quirky facts and what to see while there. Also, follow us on Facebook to stay up to date with expats and overseas property news.